“The man on my left probably needs no introduction, but I’m going to introduce him anyway,” said DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio as he kicked off an unannounced event on the New York Comic Con 2016 schedule: a Frank Miller spotlight panel.
The legendary cartoonist behind the “Dark Knight” Batman saga, the reinvention of “Daredevil,” “Sin City,” “300” and many other comics took the stage with his current employer to talk about his long career.
“I actually offered my services to DC Comics to bring back a bold and revered character who’s not been used in a long time…and Dan doesn’t think he should come back. I think it’s time for Brother Power The Geek to come back,” Miller said with a wry smile. The Joe Simon-created character meant to cash in on the hippie movement in America is an odd piece of comics history – a ragdoll that comes to life to join the counterculture. But DiDio seemed more amused at the idea than honestly thinking about taking it on as a project. “I want the letter campaign to start tomorrow,” Miller said. “This Geek thing has to happen.”
But the talk soon turned to Miller’s past work as he told DiDio when he started his professional ambitions. “I told my mother I wanted to write and draw comics when I was five years old,” Miller said, noting that his early favorites were Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes adding “No idea was too bad for it. Bouncing Boy! There were wonderful, wonderful sick touches to it.”
When the artist broke into the comics, he said, “I did it the way an awful lot of people did it. My father drove me down to Manhattan, and I had a friend from high school who let me stay there…and I pounded the pavement and went around and made phone calls trying to get work.” He said how his first work was working for Gold Key Comics working on “The Twilight Zone.” “That got me professional credentials, and that led to a meeting with Paul Levitz at DC Comics where I did ‘Weird War Tales’ and a few other jobs like that.” He said that his career took shape when he earned a reputation from being reliable. DC offered him a job on “Klaw The Conquerer” which he described as “a bad Conan ripoff.” He was cocky enough to use the offer to hit up Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter for a similar gig instead. Shooter opted to give him regular fill-in work until “Daredevil” opened up for Miller to lobby for.
“I always thought that comic books were like newspaper strips – there’s no reason one person can’t do them all,” he said of slowly taking over as writer and artist on that book. “Though I spent a fair amount of my career writing stories for other artists, and I’ve enjoyed that greatly.”
“Daredevil” stretched longer as a job than Miller expected, but “Across time my ambitions changed. I realized I didn’t want to spend my entire career working on characters created by people who were dead. I wanted to bring something new into the world. I didn’t want to just be a gardener.”
That idea led to “Ronin” which was inspired by Miller’s love for “Lone Wolf & Cub” and which he pitched to then DC Publisher Jeanette Kahn. “At the same time I discovered ‘Lone Wolf & Cub, I discovered Jean Giraud – Moebius,” he said, noting that the opening of the Forbidden Planet shop in NYC fed him with a ton of non-American comics influences to help shape his future work.
Miller credited DC executive Dick Giordano with inspiring “Dark Knight Returns” as the editor pressured him to pitch a Batman comic. “At the time I was kind of scared because Batman was the character I always wanted to do, but I don’t know if I was ready,” he said. “Mostly I was concerned about ‘Will they let me do this next scene?’ What if I made the Joker really, really bad? Because they’d made him into kind of a pansy…so I made him worse and worse.”
The war between Batman and Superman that existed in the book came out because “In the world of ‘Dark Knight,” Superman had to be Batman’s heavy. In every way from the political to the mythological level [they are opposites],” he said, calling Batman Dionysian while Superman was more a defender to the peace and the status quo. But importantly, the resolution could not be definitive because “If we lose either side of that balance, the whole world would come down.”
With his next major project being “Batman: Year One,” DiDio asked whether the book was a bookend to “Dark Knight” and why he didn’t draw it himself. Miller explained that the genesis of the story was the notes he’d made for the world of his first Batman book. “Obviously, there are hundreds of issues of history, but I had to figure all that out for myself,” he said, noting that in writing the notes, he became extremely fond of the characters of Jim Gordon and Selina Kyle. “I wanted to see them younger. ‘Batman: Year One’ was as much about Gordon as it was about Bruce Wayne because of the trials he goes through. Batman in that book is essentially a monk…Gordon is dealing with corruption and his marriage is falling apart, and this demonic figure is just haunting him – and eventually making him into a better person.”
The artist shifted back to creator-owned work for years, but he eventually drifted back to “The Dark Knight Strikes Again.” “You guys have got some mighty good characters, and they don’t let go of you,” he said. With superheroes having two major epochs – the ’40s and the ’60s – Miller felt that there was no need to reinvent the wheel of the superhero. “Why put a different costume on them and pretend I can do it better than something that was created before I was born.”
When DiDio asked how much the “Dark Knight” saga was affected based on Miller’s own personal take versus the age each series was created in, Miller joke, “I wish I had a couch.” Ultimately, he said that each new series had to reflect the times they were created in. In particular, issue #2 of “Dark Knight Strikes Again” came out just before the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which led to a delay of issue #3 as Miller struggled with his response to that day in the work – particularly by using nails to scratch into his oversized artboards to create a jagged line. “I like to use found objects…the more you draw and do it professionally, the more you get into set ways of doing things. You’ve got to try and stay open to new ways of doing things,” he said.
Miller also noted that he didn’t draw comics for years because working in film was such an exciting change of pace. “The pleasures and dangers of it are such a high pitch level of emotion,” he said, nothing that his ideal creative live would involve both doing that work but also working in solitude on comics.
DiDio wrapped his questions by bringing things full circle to the current “Dark Knight III: The Master Race” and the idea of collaborating with other people, particular other writers. “I’m very lucky it’s Brian,” Miller said. “This is comics. We’re not here to have a painful journey. Brian and I hook up, and we giggle like kids and play around, and stories come out of it…it’s like Crumb said years ago, ‘It’s onl lines on paper, folks.’ You’ve got to enjoy yourself.”
Looking forward, Miller again kidded that he saw himself working on “Brother Power The Geek” or maybe a “Bouncing Boy Mega Series” or “the amazing return of Devil Dinosaur.” But in reality, he said, “Of course I’m returning to ‘Sin City.’ That is my home, and I’ll always come back to it. And there is a project that’s been sitting fallow in my studio for years – an addition to ‘300’ focusing on Xerxes. I think that will keep me busy for a while.” He also joked that he’s spoken with DiDio about “Batman vs. Marv” or even “A Sin City/Archie crossover” that may be in the works.
Stay tuned for more from NYCC all weekend on CBR.
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